Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Future Flock

Our flock has served us well the past 10 year as mowers, but it's time we move beyond pasture sheep and breed for quality stock. Over the past year I've had the chance to attend several workshops and festivals to become familiar with raising a quality breeding flock. We took last year off from breeding to re-evaluate our goals, and last night I got my first batch of fleece results back! Due to our changing direction and breeding goals, we have several unregistered sheep for sale. These are primarily friendly, pet-type mowers who make good felting fleeces and I would hate to put them in the freezer. To have a quality flock means letting go of some of the sweetest faces, and it's time we advance our flock for the benefit of the farm.

Please visit our "For Sale" page to get a complete listing of animals being offered for sale.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Black and Grey

After being jugged for two nights, Daphne finally had twins this morning. Lucky for her - unlike poor Claire - I let her out to the paddock each day. She had been barely eating the past few days and really looking out to the mountains, off in the corner of the paddock, all by herself.

After she bolted out of the jug this morning back to the main stall, I let Doris and her ewe follow Daphne out to the paddock. It was a lovely morning and the little ewe lamb seemed active enough to stretch her legs with the big lambs. All was fine and Daphne just seemed like she'd wait another day. Maggie's udder had grown considerably overnight and certainly dropped, so I considered jugging her, but I couldn't isolate her very easily, and with all the lambs running around I decided it wasn't worth the effort.

I spent the majority of the morning pruning shrubs around the yard. Around 11 I decided I'd check on Maggie to see if she'd gone back to nesting in the big stall. All the ewes were out, except Daphne was no where in sight. I went into the barn to check the stall, and there she was just laying down rather calmly. Except then she wasn't. She was clearly in labor, stretching her head to the sky, lips curled back, cooing softly and pushing. Yes, full labor. She stood up and there were the tips of the hooves, already presenting.

Since our previous lambings this season have seemed rather drawn out, I went back to the house to get my young son, who has been asking when can he see a lamb come out. He ran up to the barn, and by the time we got there she was really pushing. I got him a small ladder to stand on so he could watch over the stall door, and we waited there, side by side, watching quietly so we wouldn't disrupt her. She was up and then down, up and then down again; pushing each time she laid down. "Why is she making that noise?" he asked. "She's talking to her baby," I replied. His eyes got big and he smiled. He was so focused. The ewe was so focused. My gaze shifted between the two, watching his reaction to her actions. The ewe stood, squatted and pushed as the lamb slowly dove to the straw below. Plop! She turned immediately, tongue flashing, ready to clean her lamb. The lamb flopped in the wet pile of goop, struggling to lift its head and take its first look at the world. Nose, eyes, ears all cleaned. The first cries of a newborn. I turned to my son, "A new lamb is born." And he just smiled back.

An hour later I went back to check on the ewe and relocate the two of them to a jug. While we were inside eating lunch, Daphne had lambed a second, larger gray ewe.  Twin ewes from a first-time mom. Way to go Daph!

Next up...Maggie???

Monday, April 3, 2017

In full swing...

We are now almost half way through lambing. Doris was the fourth ewe to lamb on Sunday morning. She had visibly dropped overnight and, after sending Claire and her ram outside, I brought her into a jug. By noon there was a very petite ewe lamb.

Doris's ewe was 5.7 lbs at birth, a full pound smaller than the smallest twin this year. She is moorit (may be fawn) with a small krunet marking like her grand-dam. She's very correct with a skinny tail and tightly crimped fleece from head to tail. I'm excited to see how this lamb turns out, especially since she's so mellow and already coming for scratches!

With today being the last sunny day for the foreseeable future, the other new lambs were all sent out to the paddock. There was the typical head banging and frantic lamb calls, but nothing unusual. After a short bit of confusion and introductions, the ladies and their lambs seem to be settled back into the flock.

The young ewes weren't quite sure what to make of the lambs. They seemed to avoid them for the most part, opting instead for an occasional sniff, keeping their distance from the competing new mamas.
Daphne (right) seemed to want to say hello. She looks like she'll lamb any day and seemed the most interested in lambs.

The lambs did a great job staying close to their mothers. They seemed quite comfortable with the big girls, even letting me approach them up close for photos.

 Ella and her twins. The ewe is very friendly and soft. Her brother is very careful to stay next to mom.
Myra's little ewe is so feminine. She's a wonderful little white ewe.
Her brother has a much wider face. His fleece is fantastic - if only they could swap fleeces!

Claire's ram has really filled out. He's very curious and a nicely put-together boy.

As for the ladies waiting to lamb...

Maggie is filling and dropping. Maybe by the end of the week?

Mary looks quite wide and her udder is slowly filling. Daphne looks like her udder is about to burst. Hopefully she'll lamb before that udder gets any larger! Maybe these two will also go before the weekend?
Lucy still has a ways. She's holding steady and rarely lets me get close enough to get a good shot.

Jeanne is most likely open.

Friday, March 31, 2017

A ram and a ewe, and a ewe and a ram...

This is the first year I've predicted due dates without witnessing actual breeding. Claire was spot on last week, and Ella was just two hours past her 147 days. Wednesday even she began nesting after being moved to a lambing pen. After several evening trips to the barn and a 2 am barn check without lambs, there was finally one ram lamb by 5:15. After getting ready for an early morning appointment, Ella had lambed a ewe by 6:30. I swear they progress faster when I'm not watching their every move!

Black ram lamb: 7.5 lbs
Grey ewe lamb: 7.1 lbs

The ewe is already coming for scratches and the ram is very mellow. Both have a more open fleece, much like Ella did as a lamb, but I anticipate it will get nicer with age.
Yesterday Myra started to isolate herself and become star-gazed. She was due on the 31st (confirmed breeding), but she didn't really seem to have much of an udder; it was present, just not large. She also appeared to have dropped some, but I wasn't expecting lambs overnight.

As I walked up the driveway around 8 this morning, I noticed a white lamb dashing around the paddock. What?!? There are NOT supposed to be lambs in the paddock! As I approached the paddock there they were: two white lambs cuddled next to the barn near Myra. She was much narrower and they were clearly hers. They were all dried off and had clearly eaten. A white ram lamb (7.5 lbs) and a white ewe (6.8 lbs). Both have very nice crimpy fleece from head to tail!

Saturday, March 25, 2017

His fleece was white as snow...

Though spring has just sprung, it still looks like a winter wonderland out there. Two more inches of fluffy white stuff overnight and I'm ready for it to go. The end of March ALWAYS seems to drag on, especially when there's still snow on the ground and not much outside work to do. I mean there's plenty to do, but who wants to skirt fleeces when it's 30 degrees outside? The snow's too deep to prune fruit trees and bushes, unless I want to put on my snowshoes. This is the time of year that I need to keep busy, otherwise I spend too much time speculating on due dates. Just as a watched pot never boils, I keep reminding myself watched ewes don't lamb!

Last Tuesday Claire was starting to bag up. I had back-calculated her lambing due date as the 23rd (Thursday), but she seemed like she might be ready. Early last week I had speculated she would single early so I was certain she'd lamb by the weekend. I brought her in to the lambing pen in the evening and hoped there might be a lamb in the morning. She had been isolating herself all day, and her udder was a clear sign something would happen soon. I always get a little excited for the first lambing, and as usual, I got too excited. She was not happy to be isolated and she seemed quite annoyed that I had locked her up. All day Wednesday she seemed to glare at me and happily much through several armfuls of hay. No lambing behavior, just an udder. So Wednesday night I again hoped there would be lambs in the morning. Nothing.

Thursday morning I had a friend coming by to photograph some products, and by 8 o'clock I knew she would be lambing before noon. Every hour I'd run to the barn to check, and while there was progress, there was no lamb. After seeing my friend off at 11:30, I went back to the barn and there he was. A good sized white ram shaking his head getting licked clean by Claire. A few hours later he was dried off, well fed and a solid 8 lbs. If only I had trusted my calculations and not jumped the gun!

As for everyone else (photos from Thursday)...

 Three generations: Kira, Ella and Daphne.
 Daphne may be next.
 Ella's holding steady.

Myra looks enormous; they all do laying down! The above three should all have lambs by next weekend.

The remainder all have a ways to go. Doris will single, Kira twin and Maggie may single or twin. Mary will twin, Lucy will single and Jeanne may not be bred (again! ERRR).

Monday, March 20, 2017

145 Days

We're two days out from our first potential lambing date. Looking at my notes regarding when the girls seemed interested in the ram, I have added 147 day due dates. Here are the girls today, in my best-guess order:

Claire: Within the next week (3/23).  

Ella and Daphne may also go before Myra, who was the only confirmed breeding and is due on the 31st. Ella is certain to go before, although since Daphne is a first timer, she may be bagging up prematurely and have a ways to go. Ella should be about a week out (3/29) and Daphne just before (3/28), although litter size can also change gestation length. 

Myra is due 3/31 and is showing accordingly. 

Lucy didn't seem to follow the ram at all, so her date is a complete guess. She still has a ways but seems further along than the remainder ewes. She may twin after all and be right along with Kira the first full week of April. Kira looks as if she'll be a few more weeks and my best guess is around April 6th. 

The remainder of the ewes are several weeks away. Maggie and Mary both look as if they'll twin mid-April, with Maggie potentially due around the 14th. Mary was another mystery ewe who showed no interest in the ram but was clearly bred. Doris will very clearly single and is due around the 11th.

Jeanne is again in limbo, as she was last year. I swear I saw lamb movement today, but she has no clear udder. If she lambs, she will single at the end of the season.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Waiting for Warmer Weather

Last week Spring was here, and today it feels like January. Biting winds and snow squalls have blown a layer of snow over the fields that were exposed just last week. It was in the high fifties when we sheared all 28 sheep last Wednesday. The animals seemed content and it made for a pleasant morning to be in the barn. After a few days to adjust in the barn, the non-bred ewes went out to the lower paddock and run-in and the ram and his wethers to the back paddock on Monday. Since then the temperature keeps dropping and each morning we get a surprise dusting of fresh snow. Saturday's high is projected to be only 5 degrees! With extra straw and lots of hay, the sheep will manage, but it does make for some unpleasant chores. 

Now that everyone is bare, it's that time of year when I assess lambing dates and numbers. Our lambing season could begin in two weeks and should wrap-up by the third week in April. This should give our lambs enough time to play in the paddock before being let out on pasture. It looks like the girls will wait until April before lambs really start coming, as Myra is due on the 31st, and she seems to have the largest udder. Many of the girls have barely an udder, and a few are barely showing.

We have ten bred ewes, one of which I'm not completely confident is bred, and most are experienced ewes. Given previous years' records and photos, I like to make predictions as soon after shearing as possible. So, here it goes:

Kira (9 years old)
Prior lambing: twins ('11), triplets ('12), triplets ('13), twins ('15)
I'm guessing she'll have triplets mid-April. There is very little sign of an udder and she's is very large.

Maggie (7 years old)
Prior lambing: twins ('12), twins ('13), twins ('14), twins ('15)
I'm guessing she'll twin mid-April. Again, barely an udder and not that wide. 
Claire (6)
Prior lambing: twins ('13), twins ('14), single ('15)
Twins before Maggie.
Ella (5)
Prior lambing: twins ('14), twins ('15), twins ('16) 
Twins or triplets in two to three weeks. Shown with Doris and Myra.
Mary (4)
Prior lambing: single ('15), twins ('16)
Twins in four or five weeks.
Myra (4)
Prior lambing: twins ('15), twins ('16)
Twins in three weeks; she's due on the 31st.
Lucy (3)
Prior lambing: single ('16)
Single in four or five weeks. Shown with Mary.
Jeanne (3)
Prior lambing: none; exposed for 2016 lambs.
Single at end of season. Pretty sure she's bred, but it's hard to tell.
Doris (2)
First time.
Single at the end of the season. Very slight udder is forming. Shown next to Ella.

Daphne (2)
First time.
Either an earlier single or twins in a month.

So, at least sixteen lambs and as many as 20.